Honky tonk holidays: Sweetback Sisters celebrate 10th annual singalong spectacular

Yule love it: Ex-Brooklynites Emily Miller (left) and Zara Bode will return to the borough for the “10th Annual Sweetback Sisters Country Christmas Sing-Along Spectacular,” which will fill the Bell House with honky-tonk arrangements of holiday favorites on Dec. 19.
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Call it the Jingle Bell House.

The Sweetback Sisters will bring the gift of honky-tonk yuletide tunes back to the Bell House on Dec. 19, while celebrating its 10th Annual Country Christmas Singalong Spectacular. At the show, the seven-piece will play holiday favorites arranged for public participation and performed in country, Americana, and swing styles, in a red-and-green extravaganza that has been growing for the past decade, according to one of the band’s titular singers.

“Our motto is that nothing is too much trouble for Christmas, so we are definitely pulling out everything we have,” said Emily Miller, who forms the centerpiece of the band along with her friend (and not relation) singer Zara Bode.

The Christmas spectacular started with a modest show at Red Hook’s Jalopy Theatre in 2009, but now includes several stockings-full of songs to get people in the holiday spirit, including “Sleigh Ride,” “The Christmas Song,” and the old-timey classic “Christmas Island,” made famous by the Andrews Sisters and Bing Crosby.

When the band formed around the two singers in 2006, they drew inspiration from the distinctive sound early 20th Century family acts, like the Andrews Sisters, the Louvin Brothers, or the Carter Family, according to Miller.

“There were a lot of brother and sister duets in country music, so we wanted to do the same thing with our vocal harmonies,” she said.

The band grew to include guitar, bass, drums, and a fiddle, and this year will debut as a seven-piece, introducing an organ and a saxophone for the first time, Miller said.

The band’s annual Christmas tour is its most popular show, and each year draws more people, said Miller. The holiday spectacular moved to the Bell House in 2015, where the crowds immediately made use of the larger digs, Miller said.

“The first year at the Bell House we had a spontaneous conga line during the encore,” she said.

The show attracts new Christmas fans each year, along with long-time carolers who have made a tradition of attending the show, Miller said.

“It’s a broad range of people coming, everyone from people in their 20s who might’ve just moved to New York and are enjoying their own new holiday traditions, to older families,” she said.

Miller and Bode have each moved out of King County, going from Carroll Gardens to West Virginia and from Downtown Brooklyn to Vermont, respectively, but the borough remains the band’s spiritual home.

“We still consider Brooklyn a home of the band, because it started there,” Miller said, and Bell House crowds consistently give them a warm welcome.

“The crowd are equally a part of making the show — the Brooklyn show especially — and I always look forward to singing really loudly with people in Brooklyn,” she said.

“The Sweetback Sisters Country Christmas Singalong Spectacular” at the Bell House [149 Seventh St., between Second and Third avenues in Gowanus,]. Dec. 19 at 7:30 pm. $20 ($15 in advance).

Reach reporter Kevin Duggan at (718) 260–2511 or by e-mail at Follow him on Twitter @kduggan16.
Posted 12:00 am, December 10, 2018
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